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Indoor tanning for kids? Might as well expose them to plutonium



After four years of hard work on the part of patients, parents, physicians, and legislators, members of the Arizona House of Representatives had their first chance to vote on legislation to restrict access to tanning devices for children under 18. The results were encouraging. HB2194 was voted through the House Health Committee on January 26th and passed the House of Representatives on February 9th.


Aaron Mangold

Many young people today hear the warnings about the ill effects of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure, including sun damaged skin and skin cancer, but to them, it seems so rare and foreign.  It is not. Cases of melanoma have steadily increased over the last 30 years due, in part, to the prevalence of indoor tanning use by teens. Life-threatening melanoma is now the fourth most common cancer among 15-29 year olds and has one of the highest years of potential life loss.  An estimated 2,050 new melanomas are expected to be diagnosed in Arizona this year.

Think it’s none of your business, you don’t have a youngster, or we should allow a permission slip from a parent to let a minor tan at a salon? Consider the broad societal impact of tanning restrictions. A recent CDC study estimated that restrictions on indoor tanning for minors younger than 18 would prevent 61,839 melanomas, prevent 6,725 melanoma deaths, and save $342.9 million in treatment costs over the group’s lifetime.

Protecting kids from indoor tanning is critical because early exposure to high levels of UV light is one of the strongest risk factors for developing a melanoma. For example, one study found that over 97 percent of individuals with a history of melanoma before the age of 30 used tanning beds early in life. Additionally, tanning at a young age is more likely to result in skin cancer later in life. Research shows that tanning before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent, basal cell carcinomas by 29 percent, and squamous cell carcinomas by 67 percent.

The Federal Drug Administration reclassified tanning beds from a Class I to a Class II device, for higher risk products. As part of the reclassification, manufacturers of indoor UV-emitting tanning devices must include a visible black box warning that people under the age of 18 should not use the device.

Following suit with the FDA, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer labelled all indoor UV-emitting tanning devices as “carcinogenic to humans.” This puts tanning devices in the same category as cigarettes and plutonium. Twenty-seven states have already passed laws prohibiting individuals under the age of 18 from indoor tanning. It’s hard to believe we let kids use these devices. It’s even more surprising in a state like Arizona where daily sun exposure and sun damage are heightened.

The Arizona Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery Society are working with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and many other medical professional groups to educate lawmakers on this important issue. We applaud Rep. Heather Carter and other lawmakers’ past, present, and future supports for championing this bill. We urge lawmakers to give this bill a fair hearing in the Senate and remember they can prevent minors from being exposed to a known carcinogen and ultimately save lives.


Aaron Mangold, M.D., is president of the Arizona Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery Society


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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